Thirty or so cyclists gathered outside Pearse Street Garda Station on Tuesday afternoon, before slow-walking with their bikes along the Luas tracks by Trinity College.
Organised by cycling advocacy group I BIKE Dublin, the protest was meant to highlight on a small scale what they see as an ineffective and ill-conceived “cyclists dismount” sign at the junction.
The bigger picture, though, was their frustration at what they say is a lack of foresight and attention given to how cyclists are supposed to safely navigate around the new Luas line.
“This part here is recognised as the most awkward,” said I BIKE Dublin founder Stephen McManus, as the group walked.
He pointed to College Green and up around onto Nassau Street. “There’s tight curves and it’s quite easy for bicycles to get caught in Luas tracks,” he said.
In September 2013, a report from the engineering consultancy firm AECOM recommended that transport officials look at where cyclists might intersect with the Luas, and provide alternative routes for cyclists – and sign-post them.
“Where street widths are insufficient to provide dedicated cycle operating space and the remaining space does not offer acceptable levels of comfort and safety, alternative routes should be provided for cyclists,” the report says.
“A quality of service assessment should be undertaken to identify the most suitable alternative route for cyclists,” it said.
In October 2017 – more than four years later – the National Transport Authority published its report on cycling feasibility along the Luas Cross City route.
It recommends several alternative cycling routes, and some less popular changes, such as the “cyclists dismount” signs that are up in different spots in the city.
A spokesperson for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), which is overseeing the Luas project, didn’t respond to queries as to why it took four years for that report to be completed.
“A number of alternative cycling routes have been identified along sections of the Luas Cross City line and proposals to formalise these routes are currently being developed for implementation,” they said.
Cian Ginty, the editor or IrishCycle.com, says that he blames an apparent lack of consideration for cyclists on “silo-thinking” within the National Transport Authority (NTA).
“There are a lot of people in the NTA that are just looking at one area,” he says. “Now, generally the officers assigned to cycling are often looking at other things. But somebody assigned to a major project might only be focused on that major project.”
It’s understandable that Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) was focused on getting the tracks down and the trams running, he says.
But the NTA dropped the ball when it came to watching out for cyclists, says Ginty. “They didn’t really do anything except put up signs.”
Where the road-safety audits for 2015 and 2016 for the project mention dangers for cyclists, they mostly recommend signage.
In its October 2017 report, the National Transport Authority sets out a number of recommendations, including proposals for contraflow cycle lanes from Glover’s Alley to Grafton Street, on Nassau Street, and on Kildare Street and the western end of Molesworth Street.
It also recommends a few “dismount cyclist” signs at junctions – including at the Duke Street junction on Dawson Street “to advise against cycling north of this junction, including along the Luas line on Nassau Street and Grafton Street Lower.”
On Tuesday afternoon, a cyclist on Dawson Street opted to stay on their bike, only to be met by an oncoming Garda car as it overtook an adjacent Luas tram.
At the College Green protest, cyclist Kevin O’Farrell said he didn’t have much interest in alternative routes away from the tracks, or the dismount signs: “They’re silly [ … ]. They’ve actually no basis in law.” He simply avoids the city centre altogether, he said.
Others said the same. Cyclists are entitled to share the road space with other transport modes, said Robert Vine. Why should they be put onto alternative routes? he asked.
Lotta Mikkonen said that Nassau Street is, in her experience, one of the worst stretches for cyclists to navigate.
They’re forced into one lane and the volume of traffic and competing vehicles tailgating is a major issue here as well, said Mikkonen. That’s one of the spots she’d like examined.
On Nassau Street, people stop in bemusement on the footpath to watch the protest pass by. Behind the group a bus waits patiently for the cyclists to disperse. By Dawson Street, the group had split up.
The last to drift away was Green Party Councillor David Healy, who represents Howth-Malahide on Fingal County Council. “I think we just showed how ridiculous they are,” says Healy, of the “cyclists dismount” signs.
Healy said that the NTA “knew consistently for some time” that they’d have to act on behalf of cyclists in Dublin.
“That’s the amazing thing,” he says. “People were saying this to them. So they were being publicly exposed for a number of years as ignoring the issues.”
As IrishCycle.com’s Ginty sees it, Dublin City Council’s transport committee has fallen short in its planning and oversight of the Luas line.
Councillors should at least have been more aware of the issues as they cropped up, he says. “I get the feeling that councillors dropped the ball on this a bit,” he said.
But Colm Ryder of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, who is also a member of the council’s transport committee, says that they were on top of things.
He said that his campaign group put constant pressure on the NTA to address issues around the Luas Cross City, and that’s how the October report into possible solutions got published.
Only after the report was published did the issues highlighted in the report begin to come to the attention of other members, says Ryder.
But the current solutions, such as the dismount signs, aren’t even a case of “better than late than never”, says Ryder.
He says that the signs will make drivers more aggressive towards cyclists as they give the impression that cyclists have to dismount on these strips – when they don’t have to, he says.
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